The Sunday Telegraph on Aug 26th led with the story that convicted Al Qaeda terrorists were appealing against their (UK) convictions to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg — a building I can almost see from my office window in Straz. This was the story that I selected to talk about on the Stephen Nolan Radio Five midnight paper review on Saturday.
This is an alarming new development. Usually appeals to the ECHR are on points of law. In this case, the appeal (which has already been ruled admissible by the Court) is on a matter of evidence and fact. If that creates a precedent, it will have two very malign effects.
First, it will dramatically increase the remit of the Court, leading to further logistical problems. There is already a huge waiting list — recently reported by the Guardian at 160,000 cases. That could double and treble in short order.
But much worse is the imposition on British Courts and British sovereignty. The ECHR could over-rule British Courts again and again. It would be yet another huge blow to British independence, described by Lord Carlile QC as “completely unacceptable”.
The fact is that foreign terrorists and criminals (and their lawyers) have become adept at gaming the system, and making endless appeals. This all costs huge amounts of money in the legal system, plus the welfare and accommodation costs of keeping these people in the UK. Never mind the on-going risks posed by them to honest British citizens.
UKIP says this is wrong. As a sovereign nation, Britain has an absolute right to decide which foreign nationals to admit. They come not as of right, but as guests, and as a privilege. If they abuse the privilege, we must be able to remove them, and our decision must be final. The appeals process is meaningless, since they had no “right” to be here to start with.
Asylum, of course, is a special case. But the asylum process becomes unsustainable if the criteria for the right to asylum are extended to include anyone with a half-credible hard-luck story. Nor can we take too seriously the supposed threat to the deportee in his own country. A British judge cannot be expected be familiar with local issues in a small town in Somalia or Afghanistan or Iraq, and will always tend to give the benefit of the doubt. This must stop. I am sorry that conditions are less than ideal in these countries, but that must not create an obligation on the UK.
A couple of years back there was a serious proposal in the European parliament that all victims of female circumcision (no matter how long ago) should qualify for asylum. So an African woman in her sixties would qualify, even though the event complained of was half a century ago. Let me be clear: I am resolutely opposed to female genital mutilation. But the fact of having been mistreated decades ago cannot become guaranteed grounds for asylum in the UK.
Meantime the same paper carries a report that the cost of enquiries into alleged British “war crimes” has topped £57 million, with no end in sight — yet no convictions. It is clear that our enemies have realised that they can exploit our squeamishness to waste our time, demoralise our armed forces, and impose huge costs on us.
We hear that some alleged victims of our anti-Mau-Mau actions in Africa in the 1950s are proposing to sue the British government for damages — as if the relevant facts could be safely determined after six decades.
The Bloody Sunday inquiry under Lord Saville of Newdigate ran for a dozen years, and has cost a staggering £40 million. We are spending vast amounts of effort and money to rake over the ashes of old grievances, with very questionable benefits. Then we hear that prosecutions are proposed against the soldiers involved. What with spending and manpower cuts, and dubious wars, and now the threat of prosecutions against our troops, we seem hell-bent on undermining the morale of our armed forces.
We have the Leveson enquiry which started in November last year, and which according the Guardian could cost up to £6 million. Of course the hacking scandal was reprehensible, but the perpetrators are being dealt with by the courts. The enquiry is largely a device by politicians to deflect blame and to show that they’re doing something about it. But it’s unlikely that the enquiry’s recommendations will be fully implemented. Anyway, don’t we elect politicians to decide policy?
We have a pattern here of allowing excessive, expensive and over-long judicial processes to run on and on, whether dealing with “human rights” issues, or old quarrels. Surely would be better to use our limited resources to face the future rather than picking at the scabs of old grievances, and raking over the cold ashes of former disputes?
As I get older, I am more and more inclined to quote the Good Book, to which I was much exposed in my youth. In Luke 9 verse 60, Our Lord says “Let the dead bury their dead”. I think he meant that we must look to the job in hand rather than raking over the embers of the past. Good advice.